In an interesting move, the FTC has created a seemingly arbitrary set of guidelines that apply to “the bloggers” and “facebooking” and how they disclose paid-for-posts (PDF file with the actual guidelines are here). I call it arbitrary because, well, it is, but I actually applaud the concept – just not the execution. I agree with the overall philosophy that there are too many undisclosed “paid-for” content spots happening in the new media landscape. But it’s not just the bloggers. In fact, I’d further state that blogs should be pretty low on the target list.
For example, products are being placed in video games, movies, TV shows, magazines, etc, with little-to-no disclosure to consumers. When I see a character in a movie using a Dell laptop (or MacBook, etc), I wonder how it got there. I wonder how much screen time it’s “supposed” to have. I wonder if the camera pauses on the Dell logo if that was in a contract, or an artistic decision. I shouldn’t have to wonder. Paid placements should be disclosed somewhere (hint: end credits), for all media, not just blogs, facebook and inevitably tweets. By the way, here’s a handy-dandy guide to paying for placements in a movie.
I think it’s even more relevant for mainstream media than for new/personal media. In the personal media landscape, say this blog for example, it is the individual’s burden to build trust. We have to earn it by our content, thoughtfulness, tone, frequency of writing (oops), etc. The moment we break trust, it becomes hard to rebuild it. So if a new mommy blog comes into the public eye, then it turns out the whole thing is a paid advertisement by a big brand, with no disclosure, odds are there will be a significant drop/plummet in readership. This, in turn, will cause the brand to end their association with the blogger (no traffic = no ad spend), thus ending the cycle.
Further, to what end must we carry disclosure? Does a film critic need to state they were given free tickets to the movie? If so, why? Do people out there really think a free movie ticket is going to change the tone of the review?? Of course not. But what if that critic works for a TV network who carries advertising by a studio (or magazine, etc), when those huge ad dollars are at stake? Maybe it’s more important to disclose the blatant paid relationship and clear conflict of interest there, as opposed to the remote possibility that some movie blogger got a free bag of popcorn.
I’m much less concerned about pay-to-post/tweet than virtually any other medium. Which is why I really call foul on the FTC policies. It seems to me like yet another example of the government creating watchdog efforts on individuals and small businesses, but letting the huge players continue to get away with shenanigans. I highly recommend reading Jeff Jarvis’ commentary here (disclosure: I was not paid to include the link to his website. ah, now didn’t that just help make the post flow so much better?).
Accordingly, here are the official LIVEdigitally disclosure policies:
- At no time in the past, nor at any time in the future will LIVEdigitally accept payment to write a blog post. Unless said payment is sufficient to cover the outstanding balance of Jeremy’s mortgage, in which case we will take the check (and disclose it). Please, big brands, send this check!
- Due to deep industry connections, it is safe to assume that many of the products reviewed or discussed were given to us for free. That said, at no point in the past nor future is there an exchange of “product for post”.
- At some times LIVEdigitally will write about clients of Stage Two Consulting, however this is not a part of any business relationship, it is entirely at the discretion of the individual writer. NO incentives whatsoever are associated with these blog posts. These relationships are always disclosed in the post.
- At all times we attempt to identify 100% of disclosures where any potential relationship or perceived conflict of interest would arise. Failing to do so should be considered an oversight, not deliberate, and you are welcome to leave a comment on any post if you’d like clarification.